A petroleum refinery experienced a catastrophic rupture at one bank of three heat exchangers in a catalytic reformer/naphtha hydrotreater unit because of high temperature hydrogen attack (HTHA). Hydrogen and naphtha at more than 500F were released from the ruptured heat exchanger and ignited, causing an explosion and an intense fire burned for more than three hours.

The rupture fatally injured seven employees working in the immediate vicinity of heat exchanger at the time of the incident. The workers were in the final stages of a start-up activity to put a parallel bank of three heat exchangers back in service following cleaning. Such start-up activities had resulted in frequent leaks and occasional fires in the past and should have been considered as hazardous and nonroutine. view more

The incident occurred in the catalytic hydrotreatment plant of an oil refinery. The plant, which began operations in September 1997, has a capacity of 1650 tons/day of light fuel oil and 1450 tons/day of heavy fuel oil. The plant was designed to desulfurize the light and heavy fuel oil fractions produced in the refinery by treating them with high-pressure hydrogen over a catalyst to remove sulfur (producing hydrogen sulfide as a byproduct). The plant has two heating/reaction/fractionating sections to treat the two fuel oil fractions, but a single gas purification and compression section for the recycled hydrogen gas.

The heavy fuel oil reactor feedstock from the vacuum distillation plant is sent to the heavy fuel oil treatment section through three pipelines equipped with flow view more

Overview: A pipe end containing fuel oil corroded at the outlet of a heat exchanger on the outlet side of a desulfurization reactor. The corroded pipe end leaked hydrogen gas, which exploded, causing oil to leak from the heat exchanger. The leaking oil developed into an oil fire, and the damage spread. The causes of the pipe end corrosion include the following:

There was a high concentration of corrosive substances in the process injection water.
The concentration of corrosive substances increased due to re-molding the heat exchangers.
The shape of the pipe cap was dead end piping.

Incident: During normal operations at a fuel oil refinery, a pipe end in a desulfurization unit developed a hydrogen leak, which led to an explosion. The pipe end was located on view more


Hydrogen leaked from the outlet piping of a hydrogen heating furnace at a fuel oil desulfurization cracking unit during normal refinery operation. The leaking hydrogen caused a localized fire. Dilution water for cleaning polythionic acid collected in the drain nozzle after a turnaround shutdown. The chlorine concentration in this dilution water was high because its concentration in the industrial water was originally high. The chlorine in the industrial water was concentrated by the high temperature, after the plant was restarted, and stress corrosion cracking occurred. Hydrogen leaked and was ignited by static electricity or heat.


A fire occurred at the fuel oil desulfurization cracking unit of a refinery 257 hours after startup of the plant, view more

During start-up operation of a high-temperature, high-pressure plant using hydrogen, hydrogen gas leaked from the flange of a heat exchanger and a fire occurred. The leakage occurred for two reasons:

Insufficient tightening torque control was carried out during hot-bolting and an unbalanced force was generated across the bolts.
A temperature rise was induced across the heat exchanger as a result of a revamping activity, during a turnaround shutdown.

Hot-bolting: In equipment and piping that operate at high temperatures, as the temperatures rise, the tightening force decreases, thus re-tightening of bolts is necessary. This work is called hot-bolting. The design conditions of the evaporator where the fire occurred were 2.4 MPaG, view more